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First state sighting of Pacific-slope flycatcher in Hadley thrills birders

  • Joe Oliverio of Amherst returns to the spot along a Connecticut River Byway kayak and canoe access trail in Hadley where, on October 23, he made the first confirmed sighting in the state of a Pacific-slope flycatcher. Photographed on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Birder and photographer Joe Oliverio of Amherst, left, comes upon another birder, Davis Noble of Boston, walking an area along the Connecticut River in Hadley on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, in search of the Pacific-slope flycatcher. Oliverio made the first confirmed sighting of the species in the state near this area off River Drive and Huntington Road on October 23. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Birders Bette Robo, left of Worcester, Mary Sughrue-Yacino of Northbridge and photographer Joe Oliverio of Amherst view a hawk in an area along the Connecticut River in Hadley on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. The three were at the site, near Huntington Road and River Drive, in search of another glimpse of the Pacific-slope flycatcher which Oliverio first spotted on October 23. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Birders Bette Robo, left of Worcester, Mary Sughrue-Yacino of Northbridge and photographer Joe Oliverio of Amherst view a hawk in an area along the Connecticut River in Hadley on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. The three were at the site, near Huntington Road and River Drive, in search of another glimpse of the Pacific-slope flycatcher which Oliverio first spotted on October 23. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Birder Davis Noble of Boston motions to an area along a canoe and kayak access trail to the Connecticut River in Hadley where, last Monday, he nearly made a brief sighting of a Pacific-scope flycatcher - but for the crowd of other spectators "four deep." Noble returned to the area on Friday morning, Nov. 1, 2019, to find just a handful of spectators but his hopes for a sighting were thrwarted by high winds. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Birder and photographer Joe Oliverio of Amherst, armed with a loaned 600mm lens and a 1.4x converter, walks an area along the Connecticut River in Hadley on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, in search of another glimpse of the Pacific-slope flycatcher. Oliverio made the first confirmed sighting of the species in the state near this area off River Drive and Huntington Road on October 23. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Birder and photographer Joe Oliverio of Amherst, armed with a loaned 600mm lens and a 1.4x converter, walks an area along the Connecticut River in Hadley on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, in search of another glimpse of the Pacific-slope flycatcher. Oliverio made the first confirmed sighting of the species in the state near this area off River Drive and Huntington Road on October 23. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Birder and photographer Joe Oliverio of Amherst walks an area along the Connecticut River in Hadley on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, in search of another glimpse of the Pacific-slope flycatcher. Oliverio made the first confirmed sighting of the species in the state near this area off River Drive and Huntington Road on Oct. 23. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • —COURTESY/JOE OLIVERIO



Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 05, 2019

HADLEY — Joe Oliverio, a professional photographer from Amherst, often ventures to a site near the Connecticut River at the end of a route on which he captures photos of birds.

While out on the Connecticut River Byway kayak and canoe access trail in Hadley, near the intersection of River Drive and Huntington Road, Oliverio can walk down a path to the water to observe migrant birds and to detect anything unusual, including birds not common to the region.

Just before 3 p.m. on Oct. 23, when training his camera on a tree still covered in colorful fall foliage, he took pictures of a couple of ruby-crowned kinglets and a blue-headed vireo, before turning his attention to another bird in the tree.

“The next bird I moved my lens onto was a bird that I didn’t recognize, kind of yellowy,” Oliverio said.

What he encountered, he would soon learn, was a Pacific-slope flycatcher, a species never before been seen or recorded by any birder in Massachusetts — a bird about 3,000 miles east of its usual habitat.

After sending a text to few local birders, local expert Larry Therrien informed Oliverio that the bird was a western flycatcher making its initial foray into the state, which confirmed the next day when a recording of its calls supplemented the visuals.

As word got out of the discovery, more local birders came to the scene, and by the last weekend in October numerous people from across the state were making their way to the mix of woods, underbrush and open fields along the path.

“Everyone who found about it wanted to put it on their list,” Oliverio said, adding that it quickly became a hot spot for birders of all stripes. “I think I’ve met every top birder in the state as a result of this,” he said.

Oliverio, a professional photographer and Paradise City artist who has taken his bird photography to art shows around New England, set a goal of photographing 200 bird species in 2019. The Pacific-slope flycatcher increased his count to 207, so he not only met his goal, but has also gained a bit of fame for spotting the small bird.

“It’s pretty exciting for me because I’m more of an intermediate birder,” Oliverio said.

He put his discovery on eBird, a website managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which allows birders to report accurate sitings.

Even more than a week after the initial sighting, some are still hoping to get a glimpse and photograph, or at least hear, the Pacific-slope flycatcher.

On Friday morning, with sunny but windy conditions prevailing, making it difficult to see or hear any birds, Oliverio said most birds were likely hunkering down.

That didn’t deter Davis Noble of Boston, who has traveled throughout the country to see birds, and hoped he could make the bird the 412th he has seen in Massachusetts.

When he was previously in Hadley on Monday, the number of other birders was so great that he wasn’t able get close to the bird, and on Friday, he was growing less confident that he would see it.

“This one’s not looking to show up again, unfortunately,” Noble said.

Bette Robo, who lives in the Worcester area, was another avid birder trekking through the site in hopes of spotting the bird, spending much of the morning walking through the area.

Scott Surner, a past president of the Hampshire Bird Club, said the flycatcher is not a show bird, but still one that avid birders in Massachusetts want to observe because of the rarity of its being in the Northeast. He noted there is a possibility that such a bird will never make such a journey again.

“It’s a cool bird for Massachusetts and for New England,” Surner said. “It’s been a bird to see for a lot of people.”

The Massachusetts Avian Records Committee, which makes an official determination that the bird has been present, still has to vote on the matter. It seems likely to approve the finding based on the report filed by its secretary, Sean Williams. Williams details Oliverio’s initial photograph and why it’s a Pacific-slope flycatcher.

“Immediately the bird was recognized as an Empidonax due to the upright posture, thick wingbars, and eyering. Furthermore, the overall color, including the throat, was olive and yellow. The eyering was complete and bulging at the rear. These features indicated a Yellow-bellied or “Western” (Pacific-slope/Cordilleran Flycatcher). A bushy crest that seemed to be split in the rear was evident, and the eyering came to a fine point in the rear rather than being somewhat rounded as on Yellow-bellied.”

The sounds recorded by Therrien added to the evidence pointing to the identity of the bird, he wrote: “This monosyllabic call, composed of two rising notes connected by the slurred bridge are classic for the ‘male position call’ of the Pacific-slope Flycatcher.”

It’s uncertain why what is considered a western vagrant bird would travel so far. Surner said other vagrants head to the coasts, but Hadley is a good place due to vegetation and proximity to the river. 

“Out here there’s oodles and oodles of area for it,” Surber said. 

Though the sighting was a first for Massachusetts, Surner said the Pacific-slope flycatcher has been seen in New York and Pennsylvania in the past.

Dan Ziomek, the resident bird expert at the Hadley Garden Center since 1988, said the find is exciting for the birding community, even with the unknowns of the bird’s journey across the country and why it apparently wasn’t spotted by anyone before getting to Hadley.

“I’ve been birding since I was 8 years old and this is the first time any one of them has been seen in New England,” Ziomek said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.